Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Border Blaze Burning on 600 Firefighters Battle Flames, Hope for Rain

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Border Blaze Burning on 600 Firefighters Battle Flames, Hope for Rain

Article excerpt

OSCEOLA NATIONAL FOREST -- John Thomas' job isn't easy.

Besides battling flames as high as 75 feet, he's had runins with alligators and snakes, not to mention heat, humidity and relentless bugs.

Despite the risks, Thomas said his job battling a wildfire at the Osceola National Forest also comes with lots of responsibility he's willing to accept.

"It's a lot of work," Thomas said. "It doesn't look like it's going to let up."

Dry conditions and winds continue to make things difficult for Thomas and the more than 600 firefighters from 30 states who are trying to save thousands of acres of private timberland and entire towns.

The fire, nicknamed the Friendly Fire because it started near the Friendly Hunt Camp in the Osceola National Forest on May 21, has consumed more than 58,000 acres. It spread into the Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge, where flames have burned about 8,000 acres.

More than 70 bulldozers, 70 fire trucks, three air tankers and 11 helicopters have dumped more than 1.1 million gallons of water and a half-million gallons of fire retardant on the flames.

Firefighters like Thomas, however, are the reason officials are hopeful the fire will not spread much further in Florida. But it will take 3 or 4 inches of rain to totally extinguish the fire, said Steve Parsons, a spokesman for the U.S. Forest Service.

Thomas is among a group of American Indian firefighters from Tahlequah, Okla., known as the Cherokee Fire Dancers.

"They're very good," Parsons said. "I've worked with Native American crews all over the country."

Thomas said if winds remain calm, he and other firefighters will be able to eventually extinguish the hot spots.

Charles Wagon, a firefighter from the Chickasaw Nation in Ada, Okla., said he spent much of the past week and a half battling small blazes by hand. The conditions were more rugged than other fires he said he has fought in other parts of the country, Wagon said.

"At least there's not a lot of structures here," Wagon said.

Firefighters had a scare Tuesday when Thomas said he and fellow crew members had to battle flames to save four bulldozers that got stuck in swampland. …

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